Spoilers: The Defiant One; References to: Rising, Home, Underground, the Storm
Summary: AU in which John never gets to Antarctica. He and Rodney meet anyway.
A/N: Yes, the title is inspired by "Lilo and Stitch" hangs head in shame. 'Mau Loa' really means forever.
Mau Loa Means the Time We Have
"You've never lived until you've almost died; for those who fought for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know." - Anon., from Viet Nam, 1968
John would notice him even if he weren't the only person he's ever seen sitting in the middle of a dance club reading a physics journal. Techno music throbs in the background, the lights from beneath the dance floor flashing, too much cologne drowning out even the thick scent of the ocean breeze. This guy looks completely out of place.
He's normal enough - short hair, a ski jump nose, a short-sleeved button down shirt, conspicuously plain in the land of loud print and Ray-Ban glasses, and the most beautiful blue eyes John had ever seen, rising in a flash to take John in from across the dance floor before darting back to the journal in his hands. But the fact is that you don't see people like him in clubs like this. It's a young crowd - barely legal twinks and gym-rats on 'I'm too pretty for college' vacation. John himself almost feels old, but the surf has been kind to his six-pack and people have always said that he looked younger than his years.
John isn't intending to go over there, not really. He always comes to this particular bar on this particular beach for a single reason - to pick up a quick, meaningless screw. He comes here when even looking out at the crash of the waves on the shore sounds like screams and gunshots. He comes here to send a big fat fuck-you to the bastards that sent Jake on that mission and then damned John for caring enough to fix their mistake. John comes here to forget all the complicated things in his life, and if this guy is anything, it's complicated.
But John has also been known to put the curiosity in the dead cat, so at the second appreciative look the guy gives him, he has to smirk wantonly back. Hey, in bars like these, it's practically required. But when the guy looks flustered and goes back to reading instead of watching John cross through the sweaty bodies grinding on the dance floor, John's not put off. In fact, he's even more intrigued.
"Must be some interesting stuff," John says, looking down at '3 Competing Theories of Time-Dilation and the Search for Black Holes.' He's not good at pick up lines - he's never had to wait long before someone approaches him.
"Yes, if you like science fiction," the guy harrumphs, hitting the pages as though they've somehow offended him. "Watch out Michael Crichton, anything you can do, theoretical astrophysicists can do better, and with a side order of academic bullshit."
"Hey, I liked Jurassic Park," John says, because clearly dinosaurs are way cooler than telescopes and black holes that people can't even find with the damned things.
The guy gives a disgusted little laugh. "Don't even get me started on that movie..."
And though John thinks it might be kinda fun to hear this guy rant for a while, he's also aware that if he doesn't stop him now, he might spend the entire night listening to this guy without finding out his name.
"John Sheppard." He sticks out his hand, but the guy doesn't seem to really notice, focused as he is on John's shoes.
"Rod... Rodson. David Rodson. Doctor David Rodson."
John raises an eyebrow at that. 'Rodson.' That's a fake name if he's ever heard one. "You married?" John can sympathize with that; he strung Natalie along for years just to keep up the image. The only thing that kept him from feeling bad about it was the fact that she was so obvious about cheating on him.
"God, no." The guy says it like the terror they both know it is.
It's almost automatic to try to value that comment somehow. "That's good to know." It's not that John's seriously considering fucking this guy, or even having a relationship with him, because... well, John likes his guys young and pretty, and gorgeous eyes aside, this guy is neither. And yet, he's glad 'David' isn't married because he doesn't seem like the type that should ever be tied down by something like that.
John is answered with a snort. The guy... 'David' finally deigns to look John in the eye, that piercing blue stare so intense it seems almost damning. "I won't finance your surf ambitions and if you so much think of calling me Daddy, I'll shove this bible of bad astrophysics so far up your ass that you'll be praying they find a black hole somewhere up there."
John puts his hands up, claiming innocence. "I wasn't thinking that... honest. I just thought, 'hey, it's not every day you see someone in a dance club reading a physics journal.'"
"So... what, you thought you could just come over here to poke at it and see if it moves? I'm not here to satisfy your curiosity."
"So if you're not here to satisfy my curiosity or to pick yourself up a cabana boy, then why are you here? There are a lot of places on this island where you could read a physics journal."
"I like the view," 'David' says, eyeing John speculatively.
"You're in Hawaii. I'm sure you can find your fair share of spectacular views. Endless ocean, lava flows, fields and fields of alien-looking pineapple plants."
David snorts. "You're wet yourself if you knew half the amazing places I've seen."
"Then why come here?" Most people didn't come to Hawaii without some sort of appreciation for natural beauty.
"I missed the sound of the ocean."
That's reason enough for John. "Hard to hear through all the Madonna. Wanna go for a walk?"
David looks so shocked by that, like he's not expecting John to even be able to walk, let alone ask him to join in.
John shrugs. "Getting tired of this place. You're interesting." What he doesn't say is that he'd be out there walking that sandswept coast right now if he weren't afraid to be alone.
Tonight it's Mitch that he keeps seeing, dopey frat-boy grin and dumb Hawaiian shirt. 'I guess I always suspected you were a fag, Shep, but I never figured you for a toyboy,' he says. He's missing the left side of his face, just like the last time John saw him.
John ignores him, raising his eyebrows at David and walking out, slowing down outside to give the guy time to catch up. He does so surprisingly quickly, sort of half-bounding to John's side in an awkward little strut.
"So tell me about these places you've seen," John says. The night is cool, with a perfect sea breeze blowing in off the coast, but the moon is a hazy yellow above them, turning the sea a murky brown as they approach it. The lava-rock steps that lead down to the soft sand of the beach don't look slippery, but John offers David his hand anyway.
David ignores the help. "So when you fall you can drag me down with you? I don't think so."
When they reach the bottom, David bends to pull off his Tevas (and his socks... ugh). John's already barefoot.
"What, have you never heard of tetanus?" David squawks. "Hey, wait up!"
John stops out of courtesy, but in truth, he's restless. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. On nights like these, what he really needs is a good hard fucking, painful and deep and so thorough that his only option afterwards is to pass out and wake to a brand new hopefully-ghost-free day.
"I've been to every continent except Antarctica, so I'm not sure you can surprise me," he offers, because since when do astrophysicists travel anyhow?
David snorts. "Not worth it. It's cold and unless you're a pilot or a geologist, there's not much to do there anyhow."
"Well, I do happen to be a pilot."
David gives him the once over, his eyes dark in this light, probing. "Figures. You do look a little like a living temple to Tom Cruise. Still, there's not a lot of places to fly to and from down there. Everything's white. Boring. And cold. Did I mention cold?"
John chuckles. "Yeah, you did. So the stars must be really clear there, huh?"
"I suppose. I mean during winter months when there is night, maybe. I never really checked, because if you think it's cold during the day, you really don't want to see the nights."
John frowns. Weren't astrophysicists suppose to like... look at the stars?
"Then what were you doing there?"
David looks away. "That's um... that's classified."
Huh. So, apparently you could get more interesting than 'guy reading physics journal in gay bar'. "Okaaaay. So, um, where else did you like? I mean, Hawaii's cool and all, but all the tourists are sort of starting to annoy me. Where'd you recommend?"
That's not the entire truth. Hawaii is beautiful and the surf is fantastic, but he's starting to get that itch, that restless twitch that he'd gotten before every transfer, the one that said 'this isn't home, time to move on.' When he was younger, he'd have half his stuff already in boxes by the time his father came home with the transfer orders. He's starting to think that he's going to be doomed to live that military life even after they'd given up on him.
David scratches the back of his neck nervously, looking out at the ocean. Here the stars are clear too, but David hasn't looked at them - not once. "I... um... well... New Zealand is kind of pretty. Lord of the Rings, pretty, but the people are, what's the word... well, they're like glorified sheep herders, so don't expect too much."
John smirks. "Been there, done that, and I think the word you're searching for is 'nice.' Where else?"
David seems to think... think way too hard for a man who's seen the world. He delays by setting himself down on the shore, leaning back on a driftwood log, still resolutely not looking at the sky even though he has to crane his neck to keep his focus on the ocean. John'd rather keep walking, but maybe David's tired. It'd be unfair to push him.
"Well, strangely, I really liked Egypt, but there's wars and stuff over there now, so I don't know."
"There's always wars over there. I know; I was in one."
David turns to him suspiciously. John can almost feel the admittedly acerbic repartee between them dissolve, like it's suddenly miles separating them, not mere inches. "Which?"
"Desert Storm. Brand spanking new out of the Academy. Great way to get rid of any illusions about who you're working for."
"So you're Air Force?" David practically spits it, sounding bitter. Usually, people are glad to know he's a pilot. The Air Force is the Harvard of the services. People will accept that he's not just a dumb grunt.
"Was. As of two years ago." John does a little bitterness of his own. Combat zone to combat zone to fucking illegal 'consulting' missions, and then they kick him out because he actually believed them when they said 'no man left behind.'
"Oh. What happened? Get tired of putting people in impossible situations and then asking them to deal? Of being all stoic military bravery and 'I'll protect you because you clearly couldn't possibly help even though it's scientists that ultimately win wars' and then getting yourself killed?!"
John takes a moment to sort that one out, but then figures that he won't actually be able make sense of it no matter how hard he tries. Clearly, the military did something to David - something personal. "No. I disobeyed a direct order. They kicked me out."
"Good for you... yes, good for you. Good men don't listen to that..." he waves his hands abstractly. John thinks that maybe, if given long enough, he might be able to interpret what that means. "They don't stay when they're ordered. They go back and help their commanders to fight off a ten-thousand-yea... ten-thousand rabid communists."
Well, that was a new one. "There weren't any communists involved."
"Oh, yes, right. What order did you disobey?"
It's Dex this time, chest a mess of burned flesh and melted flak-vest, eyes blank, which is even worse than accusing. "It's a beautiful night for a swim, isn't it?"
David looks at the water and snorts.
John, already unfastening his belt, replies, "Every night's a beautiful night in paradise."
David looks at him disdainfully. "Are you crazy?! There could be rip-tides or sharks or man-eating jellyfish!"
John rolls his eyes. "I'm a good swimmer, sharks don't eat people, and there's no such thing as man-eating jellyfish. Now are you coming or not?" Looking down, John realizes this might be a mistake. John's a good swimmer, but David... doubtful. Not like he'll...
But then David stands and unbuckles his pants as unselfconsciously as all those old men that come sagging to the pool in red Speedos. "If I die by hungry jellyfish, it's all your fault."
John grins. "If you get eaten by a jellyfish, I'll take full blame for the zoological breakthrough."
"Fine, mock my gruesome and painful death."
John's down to his boxers by now. He could leave them on, but he's seriously down on wet chafing cotton and it's not like it's nothing David hasn't seen anyhow. He flings them off with a grin.
David stops wrestling with the buttons on his shirt to stare, taking in John's lean body from head to toe. If John were to look, he's sure he'd see a stirring arousal through David's boxers. John doesn't fault the guy. They just met at a gay bar, after all.
But then David flings his own boxers off defiantly and stomps almost angrily into the ocean, shirt unbuttoned but still on. "You coming?"
John laughs and runs in after him, diving past the surf that's coming up to kiss the edges of David's shirt and swimming out past the breakers.
"You're going to get yourself killed!" David yells out to him. He doesn't sound frightened, just sort of resigned.
John debates swimming back and dunking him, but decides against it, letting the waves float him, flayed wide open before the dusky moon.
David rants in the background, sounding curmudgeonly and a little absurd, but his voice keeps the ghosts at bay, at least for one more night.
The good thing about Hawaii is that with so many people flowing in and out, you can confess your darkest secret only to have them fly away in a week or so.
John looks back over his shoulder to where David is wondering if sea cucumbers contain citrus and thinks this land is made for you and me.
"Fuck, fuck, triple-fuck!" John beats the steering wheel as he races up the mountainside, Jeep just barely staying on two tires as he rounds curve after curve. It's early in the morning, still a harsh cold, even as the terrain begins to lighten just slightly.
He should have read the mail last night when he got home. Then he would've been able to work off the anger with whatever-his-name, the spry little 18-year-old tourist from the club. But now there's nothing to do but head up to the mountain early and hope he was normal enough by the time Rick and Kathy showed up. Fuck!
John never would've thought it'd happen, but when he got back, there was the nice military-air-mail letter, the crisp scrawl, the hidden meaning.
The letter said:
I know you never thought it'd happen, but apparently we both underestimated the brass, because they promoted me to Major! I don't really have time to write much - I'm shipping out for my new assignment. It's classified, but I hear it's supposed to be big. The medical screening alone - whew, I didn't even know they could take that much blood without an infirmary stay. But, hell, I'll welcome anything that gets me out of Baghdad and the fucking desert. They said they need me on this right away and that they don't know when I'm going to be able to write again - part of the classified thing, I guess. I put you on my list of emergency contacts, because this tour is minimum of 2 years and I guess I'm not sure Mama will be around that long. I wish you were here, man. We had some good times.
What John read is: I'm on the fast track now. I'm doing something that's likely to get me killed. I'm not getting out and moving to Hawaii with you. And it'll be at least 2 years before we can see each other again.
John barely even notices when he gets to the top, screeching on the brakes and pulling up beside the nearest snowdrift. The observatory's not that much further up, two strange light domes against the stark brown of the lava rocks.
John slams the door as he exits, the early-morning chill nipping at his fingertips as he slides open the back and grabs his board.
They never made any promises. But they should've. Because John can keep on living. He can make a little place for himself in paradise, but it'll be alone. It has to be alone, because no one here can possibly understand. Jake was supposed to be that someone. John fucking torpedoed his own career to save him; he should get something back.
And then his board's digging into the snow, slick and wet with the beginning of the melt, nothing but the crunching scrape of sliding, dipping, curving. Skis weave, they blow snowdrifts into moguls like old women dividing and hoarding until they're wrinkled and frail. Snowboards cut, they slice up the mountain until its face smiles like a beauty queen a day after the silicon goes in. Today, not even the calm blue of the Pacific on the horizon can calm the jagged wounds John's cutting in deep.
So deep that his edge catches. One minute he's sailing deep into the dawn and the next he's slamming back hard into the crusty white of a snowdrift, legs twisted beneath him and... . Fuck! His day just kept getting worse and worse, didn't it! The pain lances up his leg through his knee, spasming at even the slightest movement. He grits his teeth and forces himself to bend down and unbuckle his bindings. His left knee has been acting up since he'd blown it out skiing in Tahoe. Though boarding is easier on it, it's apparently not easy enough.
"Goddamnit, John! Come up here alone at six in the morning and what do you expect?!"
He pushes the board beneath the injured knee, using it as sort of a splint as he starts the slow process of sliding himself down the mountain on his butt. Damn Jake, why can't he keep on being the perfect misfit he'd always been with John?
In fact he should've gotten the boot along with John. For every time John's disobeyed orders, Jake's done it five times, and yet he is still in and John's stuck flying idiotic tourists over lava flows, making bad jokes about it being toasty and how now was not the time to let go of their cameras.
John grimaces, inch by goddamned inch until he's finally, painfully, down on the cold asphalt of the road, floundering as he tries to push himself to his feet. God, he can't even put any weight on it. Even if he could drag himself back up to the top, there's no way to drive the Jeep. This is the one time in his life that he wishes he'd gotten an automatic.
John looks down at his watch. It'll be at least another hour before Rick gets here and he doubts the people who work at the observatory will be driving up at this hour. Might as well make himself comfortable. With a sigh, John lowers himself back down, the cold already causing the abused muscles of his knee to stiffen.
He's busy cursing Jake, the Air Force, this island, this country, the universe in general when a Chevy Tahoe makes its way, painfully slowly, up the mountain, skirting dangerously close to the curves anyhow.
John rockets painfully to his feet, not wanting to get run over by the horrific driving skills of the idiot that would drive an SUV in the state with the highest gas prices in the country. He plasters on a winning smile (which he's sure looks a lot more like a wince) and sticks a thumb out.
The Tahoe screeches to a stop and out steps none other than: "David?" In truth, as fun as their time together had been, John hadn't intended to see David again - why get the man's hopes up? John is never going to sleep with him.
"Hm?" The guy says, looking ridiculous in a cranberry-red fleece and one of those hats with the puff-balls on the back.
"David is your fake name."
"Oh, yes... hm... I meant, 'huh, what's a man like you doing alone on a deserted road at 6 in the morning?'"
John grimaced. "Snowboarding.'
"Alone? Of all the ridiculous, suicidal, completely illogical... how do you even intend to get back up?"
"I was planning to jog, but um... I sort of twisted my knee on the way down. Do you think you could..."
"Twisted your knee? Be glad that's all you did. You could have cracked your skull open, and then what? Innocent bystanders and all the king's men are supposed to put you back together again?"
John takes a limping step forward, his knee twinging painfully. "Could you just, maybe, give me a ride down the mountain?"
"Oh, for god sakes," David huffs, hurrying over to help John limp over into the passenger's seat. He's warm and solid pressed against John's snow-chilled side, and surprisingly muscular. "You're lucky that Watson is such an moron that I have to nobly drive up at early hours of the morning to sneak in and correct his calculations before he forever ruins the field of astrophysics with his idiocy. Who knows what kind of damage he'll do in the time it takes us to drop you off alone?"
"I'm sure he'll manage one morning without a complete academic turnaround, David," John says, relaxing into the front seat with a sigh.
The one good thing about gas-guzzling monstrosities like this one is that there's room to both stretch his aching leg out and fit his snowboard in. The bad thing is that they're always invariably driven by people who cannot drive in a straight line. John tries eyes closed and eyes open; they're both equally horrifying. If he sort of squints he can almost convince himself...
"Hey, are you in pain? Oh, god. Um, I... there's some Tylenol in the glove compartment. Don't worry, I have all the possible routes to the hospital already mapped out. We'll get there..."
John feels a sudden jolt of acceleration and grips his seat tightly, managing to choke out, "No. No, it's okay. Don't rush. I'm fine. Really, it's an old injury. An ice pack and a couple of days off it and I'll be good as new. Just... um... eyes on the road!"
"Are you sure? I mean, it can't hurt to have it x-rayed, right? Maybe the big kahunas down there can rattle some chicken bones or fry a wild boar at it or something."
"Voodoo, all of it. But you know, you should at least get them to give you some of the good stuff. Mmmmm... morphine. I used to be a bit of an addict, believe it or not. Before I came here, obviously. Got me hooked, those pincushion waving bastards. But you shouldn't have to suffer, right? And it's not like they're going to let you get away with more than a few doses. Maybe you could share? My joints have been aching a bit recently. I think it's the weather. Do you think there's a hurricane coming? Because I really, really don't like hurricanes. There was this big storm where I was stationed, and these terrorists and they wouldn't let me fix the grounding stations and it was all rain and cold and commandos but I totally faced them. I took one down, even. You should have seen..."
Clearly, David's panic response was to ramble. "Eyes on the road!" John shrieks in a way he hopes is pretty manly. "Where'd you learn to drive? Mars?"
David rolls his eyes... which means he's not watching where he's going. "Boston, actually. But before a couple of months ago, I hadn't driven a car in years."
Driven a car? That meant that someone was crazy enough to let David drive something that wasn't a car? The image of a tank rolling lackadaisically off a cliff comes to mind, David's wild hands flailing in the driver's seat. Gah!
"Well, it shows."
David turns to him and glares. Eyes on the road, eyes on the road! "Hey, that's no way to treat the good Samaritan taking time out of his busy day to save you from your own idiocy and take you to a hospital."
"I don't need to go to a hospital! I just need a comfy sofa and an icepack. Make a left here."
David glowers, but makes the required left, taking out an innocent mailbox in one fell swoop.
"Um... shouldn't we leave a note?"
"I'll mail them a check."
"You do realize that you just destroying their mail box, right?"
"Oh fine." David stops and then backs up.
John's wishing for a plummeting Blackhawk right now. He'd feel more in control.
David stops, glares, gets out and stomps over to the fallen mailbox, leaning down to pick it up with what appears to be little effort, which surprises John - he doesn't look like the type to keep in good shape. Then he stomps back over to the car and opens the door with a crinkled-mouthed frown that's kind of cute in a kooky eccentric sort of way. "How much do mailboxes cost these days?"
John shrugs. "I dunno. Depends if it has to be shipped from the mainland, I guess."
"Hmmm..." David says, opening his wallet and looking inside. "A couple hundred should do it, right?" Then he walks back over to the mangled, half-standing box and shoves a fat wad of bills inside, making his way back to the car.
"You could have just left them your number," John points out.
"And have some family with lawn flamingos calling me and telling me what a horrible driver I am? I think not."
"Ok-aaay," John says. Clearly either lawn flamingos or his bad driving are sort of a touchy subject.
They're silent for the rest of the ride down to John's house. It's not until the pull up that John realizes that he's going to be in a world of pain. He looks up at the steep steps carved into the bluff leading up to his porch and groans.
"Please tell me you have an elevator," David says, as though people routinely build elevators into cliff-faces.
"Yes, because my real name is Lex Luthor."
David rolls his eyes, then studies the cliff face. "There's no way you're making it up that. You have anywhere else you can stay?"
Actually... no. He might be able to stay with Rick and Kathy, but they're up on the mountain by now. And Jenkins from work doesn't even have a house as far as John knows. And the secretary... he could stay with her if he was willing to trade his honor for it. But then after he inevitably breaks her heart, she'll stick him with all the shit-shifts. George, the mechanic? No, he has a family. A huge family. There's always Brian or Tommy or what's-his-name, but he'd still have to make it up the stairs to dig up his damned black book. "Um..."
"Oh my god, you don't actually know anyone do you? You're one of those people... the ones who seduce poor unsuspecting millionaires on vacation and get them to pay for you! I knew it! Only reason someone as gorgeous as you would ever approach..."
John snorts. "For the last time, David, I'm not trying to seduce you. Trust me. If I wanted to seduce you, I would find a lot less painful way to go about it." He winces for emphasis, but it seems to have the opposite effect.
"Are you in pain? Here, have a few more Tylenol." David grabs the bottle and dumps like half of it into John's hand. "You know if you're worried about health insurance, I can pay for you. It's not a problem. Not that I'm one of those lecherous millionaires who picks up young pretty things in tropical bars or anything. But you know... we Canadians believe that everyone should have the right to health care if they need it."
John rolls his eyes, dumping all but one of the Tylenol back into the bottle. "I'm fine. Really. Just, um... there's a coffee shop just down the road. I can wait there until my friends get back."
David looks him over calculatingly. "How long will that take?"
"Uh... I don't know. Depends if they decide to go to the beach when they get back or not." But then again, when did Rick and Kathy not go to the beach?
"Okay, fine, fine, you can stop being pathetic now. I'll take you home with me. Just don't expect special treatment. I'm a very busy man, you know. Lots of important projects."
"No. It's okay. I wasn't trying to..."
"Give me your keys."
"No, seriously. I'll be fine. You don't have to."
"Oh please. Thou dost protest too much. Just give me the keys. Need anything besides a change of clothes? Laptop? Briefcase? Brainfloss?"
John shakes his head. He's a pilot. "Oh, wait. There's a knee brace and a pair of crutches in the hall closet."
John watches on amused as David rants to himself as he inches up the tall stone steps. "The things I'll do for strangers. Hot strangers, granted. And they have the nerve to call me a Grinch. I mean, true, I don't exactly subscribe to the Judeo-Christian holiday of greed and the way it spoils children with great expectations. But I can be kind. I mean, killing my knees..."
John smiles to himself, closing his eyes and letting the sun seep in through the window, warming him and chilling him at the same time until the screaming pain in his knee is nothing more than a dull throb.
It must be at least 20 minutes later when David returns with a duffel bag and a pair of crutches.
John raises his eyebrows. "Are we eloping or something?"
"Well between all your haircare products and clothing for a couple of days and some books that you had that I thought might be interesting and that bag of Tostitos that would clearly go bad in your absence and your X-box..."
John chuckled, not sure if he should be frightened of a man who'd think nothing of entertaining a complete stranger for what appeared to be a week, judging by the bulk of the bag, or just be amused by David's presumptions.
As it turns out, David doesn't live far. He's right on the beach in one of those beautiful ocean cottages that John could never in a million years afford - modern, of steel and concrete and stained glass, a porch jutting right out over the rocks so at high tide it looks like you're just floating above the ocean, the waves crashing below, just out of reach.
"Nice," John says, using the crutches to swing himself straight out to the porch.
"Hmm," David says, like he doesn't notice that he's got one of the nicest homes on the whole damned island. "Yes, so I'll um... I'll get you an ice pack. Do you want something to drink? Nothing with citrus. I'm deathly allergic."
"You got a beer?"
"Sure. Real Canadian beer."
"Why does everyone act so surprised at that?"
"I guess I expected you to be a little more polite."
"Oh, that's nice, insult the man waiting on you hand and foot. Those stairs of yours were steep, you know." David bitches, but there's not really any seriousness to it.
"Sorry. You don't have to look after me, you know. With a pitcher of water and a good book I could sit out here all day. You could lock me out if you're afraid..."
"Don't be silly. It's not like I have anything better to do."
"But before... you said... don't you, you know, have to be at work?" John asks, petulant.
David waves him away. "Oh, I don't work."
"But you... the observatory... Watson..."
"Yes, my genius is clearly necessary to keep those idiots from delaying the whole advancement of the field by about ten years, but I don't work. I'm supposed to be 'recuperating' or 'dealing' or some psychological voodoo like that, but sitting on the beach all day is just a complete and utter waste of my genius. I mean, it's like rubbing a magic lamp and not using your three wishes. I'd rather be at Northwestern or CalTech or someplace where more of the theoretical work goes on, but you can't really say you're taking a vacation to Chicago, now can you?"
"So... what... you stalk physicists?"
David snorts. "Not exactly stalking per se. Stalking implies that you like or care about or have some sort of obsession with the people you're following. I mean, the only reason I even know their names is because that's how the usernames are set up on their network. But a little stealthy maneuvering does go a long way. They think I'm just some eccentric hermit who has a pineapple plantation and a home telescope or something, as though anyone could come up with my brilliant insights out of the blue."
"But how do you..." As far as John knows, David doesn't have an observatory in his backyard.
"Compared to the stuff I've done, Watson and Singh are still playing in the sandbox. If I were allowed to publish, I'd peer review their papers right down the damned volcano. But you work with what you have. Look, I'll just grab my laptop and sit out here with you for a bit."
Half an hour later, when John has already taken a good chunk out of War and Peace, David returns in a long-sleeved synthetic shirt, one of those floppy sun-hats from REI, huge black wrap-around glasses and a zinc-sunscreen white nose.
John raises his eyebrows. "How are you going to feel the sun like that?"
"Do you have any idea how easily I burn? I have a very... uh... special skin condition."
"But it feels good."
"Well, excuse me if I don't relish the thought of melanoma. I can still see the beach." Then he hits his laptop screen. "If not my laptop. Hold on. There's a remote for the deck umbrella somewhere around here..."
John shifts so he can lean over, wincing as it pulls at his knee. He grabs David's wrist. "Sit a little."
And they do.